Soup kitchen partners with Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan to continue serving hot meals to Detroit's vulnerable
DETROIT — Less than a mile south of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit lies a hub of services for those most in need — the Center for the Works of Mercy. Offering mental health and addiction counseling, a jail and prison ministry, clothing, dental, medical and vision services for the low income and uninsured, the center recently added another service to its list: hot meals.
The Center for the Works of Mercy, an arm of Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, is the new home for the historic St. Leo’s Soup Kitchen. Formerly located at the now-closed St. Leo Parish at Grand River and 15th, the soup kitchen has served the hungry in Detroit since 1971. At the height of its operation, the soup kitchen served 40,000 hot meals annually.
After the closure of the parish in 2017, the soup kitchen continued to operate on the site for a few years until a major flood damaged the building beyond reasonable repair. As St. Leo’s board of directors started looking for a new location, the Center for the Works of Mercy also was looking for a partner to utilize its kitchen area to offer hot meals for the hungry in the area.
Matt Durack, president of St. Leo’s Soup Kitchen, said the soup kitchen formed a relocation committee to find its new location.
“After a fairly exhaustive search, we were able to partner with Catholic Charities and the Center for the Works of Mercy,” Durack told Detroit Catholic. “Kitchen renovations were fairly extensive, but we were finally up and running just a few weeks ago.”
The soup kitchen opened in its new location Nov. 15 after passing final inspection from the city of Detroit.
Adam Perry, director for the Center for the Works of Mercy, said Catholic Charities learned St. Leo’s was looking for a new location through one of their community partners, the Malta Dental Clinic.
“We partnered with Malta for the dental clinic early on,” Perry said. “And they had previously partnered with St. Leo’s. We knew we wanted to work with a partner for hot meals because we had the commercial kitchen space. We had to modify it, but we had the space built for that. So when we began reaching out to different partners in the food area, we wanted, if possible, to work with a Catholic partner. Malta suggested we talk to St. Leo’s.”
The new St. Leo’s location at the center has space for tables and about 36 seats. Patrons can either dine in or get food for carry out. At present, the soup kitchen is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, serving lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
“We have a tight space, but we try to make that space work,” said Rich Perry (no relation to Adam Perry), food program manager for both Catholic Charities and St. Leo’s. “Our goal is to open on Fridays in 2023.”
Rich Perry said it means the world to him to be able to offer this service for Detroit's less fortunate. He recalled recently serving a veteran who told him he had not eaten in two days.
“I know what it’s like to be hungry,” he said. “I have been hungry myself. Other people like to give clothes, some provide places to live. I like to provide hot and nutritional food to people.”
Daily food preparation and service at St. Leo’s Soup Kitchen involves eight volunteers under the direction of chef Burt Dearing. Dearing and his family have been in the restaurant business for some time in the city of Detroit.
“That’s more or less where I got my skill set and my passion for cooking,” Dearing said. “We are not your grandmother’s soup kitchen at St. Leo’s. Our goal is to make sure we have restaurant quality food. With the new renovations, the new kitchen and the donations, I think we will be able to do that.”
For those interested in volunteering or making a donation to the soup kitchen, Rich Perry said, “We can always use people’s time, talent and treasure.” For more information, call the Center for the Works of Mercy at (313) 335-3261, visit ccsem.org, or email [email protected].
“We love having involvement from parishes and the dioceses as far as volunteers,” said Adam Perry, referring not only to the soup kitchen but many other areas within the Center for the Works of Mercy. “Our biggest goal is always to get more people involved. Many hands make light work.”
Separate from St. Leo’s, a food pantry is also available at the Center for the Works of Mercy. Clients need to make an appointment for this service.